A Restful Sleep Every Night

Here's how to hack your sleep and rest well

Man Resting Quietly
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If you’re an average guy living in today’s overscheduled world (let’s face it, most of us are), then you’re probably slogging through on less-than-optimal sleep.

Believe me: Juggling a growing business and three small children, I have plenty of experience trying to get by on less sleep than I need.  

I’ve learned you can’t pretend your way to feeling great. We need shut-eye. Chronically bad sleep adds body fat, screws up our hormones, ages us faster, increases chronic illness and drains us of our IQ and mojo.

In fact, when it comes to staying fit, happy, and mentally-focused, the amount and quality of sleep is just as important as nutrition and exercise.

Engineer a restful night every night with help from a these simple, science-tested strategies.

Prep Your Body

Falling asleep requires a complex chain of chemical reactions in your body. Here’s how to facilitate the process.

Create a Bedtime Routine

You can’t just slam the brakes on your day and expect to fall asleep instantly. A relaxing pre-bed routine offers the transition you need to wind down.

De-stress. Maybe you like to meditate, breathe deeply or read.

Low intensity movement, like fifteen minutes of yoga, can release tension and activate calm-down chemicals. So can a hot bath with magnesium-based epsom salts, known to support healthy sleep.

Brave souls can experiment with a cold shower (I swear by it), which may stimulate a strong parasympathetic nervous system response, lowering stress and paving the way for slumber.

Keep a Regular Schedule

Go to bed at the same time every night, and your body eventually learns to release calming hormones at the appropriate time to help you fall asleep.

What’s the optimal bedtime? Before midnight. Some experts theorize that, because of the way our natural circadian rhythms work, every hour of sleep before 12am is worth two hours after.

Shoot for at least seven hours a night, the minimum amount most people need to thrive.

Moderate Alcohol and Caffeine 

Too much booze or coffee can interfere with deep sleep, the phase that’s key to a truly restorative night.

Limit alcohol to the recommended amounts, and quit caffeine after 2 p.m. Otherwise, you may “sleep” for seven hours, but it won’t be as beneficial.

Exercise Regularly

Physical activity helps normalize circadian rhythms, tone down the sympathetic nervous system and regulate endocrine function—all crucial for solid sleep.

That said, try not to work out too close to bed time, which can rev us up and make it tougher to wind down.

De-Screen

When light decreases, the brain produces melatonin, a hormone that ensures deep sleep. Gazing into the hypnotic light of your smartphone means less melatonin—and suboptimal shut-eye.

Try to unplug from all screens — TVs, computers, phones, tablets — at least 30 minutes before bed.

Just can’t resist that copy of Gone Girl on your tablet? Switch the screen to a dimmer background (even black).

Block Stimulating Factors

You work hard to relax before bed—now don’t let anything bug you once you’re asleep!

Number one: Make it dark (remember melatonin?). Trade your flimsy undergrad-era Ikea blinds for a better set, and cover bright screens (phone, alarm clock) while you sleep.

Next, pick your temperature (you wouldn’t believe how many clients unknowingly sleep in a sauna).

Most people sleep better when it’s cool, around 67 F, though you might find any temperature from 66 to 72 F comfortable.

Wake Up Right

Believe it or not, setting the stage for quality sleep starts the moment your eyes pop open in the morning. Hint: Waking to a blaring alarm gets your fight-or-flight hormones raging—not awesome. Here are some humane solutions.

Take Advantage of Natural Rhythms 

Throughout the night, we cycle through sleep stages. Waking during deep sleep causes “sleep inertia," that dreaded groggy, disoriented state.

Time your wake-up call for a lighter stage. Not sure when that is? Apps like iPhone SleepCycle or SleepBot wake you up within a pre-specified time window when they sense wakefulness.

Also, hands off the snooze button! This tempting tool seems to increase sleep inertia.

Once you’re awake, simply sit up and put your feet on the floor.  Start shambling towards the bathroom, or anywhere else that isn’t your bed. I’ve seen it—there’s something magical about movement that seems to facilitate the waking process.

Make Light Work for You

Light stimulates the production of cortisol, signaling your body to wake, so you need some exposure in the morning.

If you’re using light-canceling shades or have to get up before the sun, try a dawn-simulating alarm clock. I love Biobrite, which slowly lights up my room, reaching maximum brightness at a pre-determined time.

Continue to expose yourself to light throughout the day, which keeps melatonin production low and maintains wakefulness. If you work in an office, even popping out for five or ten minutes can go a long way toward getting you the light you need for good nighttime rest.

In the end, getting good sleep is often just as important as eating well and exercising. When you give sleep the respect it deserves, you’ll finally discover the power of a good night’s rest.

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